From Russia with Intelligent Training

Чем да́льше в лес, тем бо́льше дров.

With the conclusion of the Cold War, those of us in the west were given access to the wisdom and science from the Soviet Union’s extensive research into physical performance. Their contributions are numerous and include advances and innovations in strength/conditioning such as periodization, plyometrics, improving recovery, maximal force production, muscular contraction speed, optimal work/rest ratios, intervals, increasing aerobic and anaerobic thresholds, just to name a few. Russians continue to contribute to the landscape of physical culture and I’m thankful for the immense influence their work has had on me.

To distill some of these insights into blog-sized bits, I’ll begin with a few quotes. These snippets are intended to pique your interest in the authors. I encourage you to seek out the full texts of those that interest you.

“Many attempts have been made to determine which training is more effective, lifting maximal or intermediate weights. This is similar to the question of whether 800-meter runners should train at distances shorter or longer than 800 meters. It is advisable to run both. The same holds true for strength training; exercises with different resistances must be employed.” – Vladimir Zatsiorsky from “Science and Practice of Strength Training”

We can sit here arguing about some mythical ideal volume/intensity like true internet keyboard warriors, or we can train a wave of volume/intensity like Zatsiorsky would have us do.

“The long distance runner has more endurance than the weightlifter if there are long distances to be run. But he has poorer conditioning than the weightlifter if there are weights to be lifted. The muscle-work of the long distance runner is successful only with a very large oxygen supply. The effort the lifter spends is on the contrary so great that he is never able to maintain a complete oxygen supply. His muscles can work with an insufficient oxygen supply. In the first category the heart and vascular system are influenced as well as the breathing organs. In the other groups the emphasis is on the motion apparatus. The marked conditioning training of the long distance runners has a negative effect on the development of strength. Conversely, the strength training of weightlifters is not good for long distance runners. Weightlifters should be careful in each training session which signifies long-enduring work with low intensity.” – Arkady Vorobiev from “Russian Training Methods: Developing Speed and Flexibility.”

Specificity in training. Like, don’t use a powerlifting cycle to train for a marathon.

“Strength, speed, and endurance are the important abilities for successful performance. The dominant ability is the one from which the sport requires a higher contribution (for instance, endurance is the dominant ability in long-distance running). Most sports require peak performance in at least two abilities. The relationships among strength, speed, and endurance create crucial physical athletic qualities. A better understanding of these relationships will help you understand power and muscular endurance and help you plan sport-specific strength training.” – Tudor Bompa from “Periodization Training For Sports”

When the stage of training moves beyond general physical preparation to specific preparation, it’s best to utilize an approach that pursues the most meaningful objectives.

“Work of moderate power for weeks and months does not deliver a high level of sports results, it significantly fortifies and stabilizes skills, creates a more perfect coordination of functions of organs and systems, and strengthens them and the whole organism through positive structural and morphological changes. This is how the so-called ‘special foundation’ is built.” – Nikolay Ozolin from “Specific Conditioning”

It’s easier to chisel a masterpiece if you have a solid base to work from. It helps to ensure things won’t fall apart when the demands of sport become more complex.

“When speaking of special strength training methods, one should turn particular attention to the so-called conjugate method. Essentially, it consists of the momentary influence on the key motor quality to the interconnections corresponding to the specific activity, while preserving the structure of the sport exercise. The conjugate method secures strength development in synthesis with other key qualities while preserving their rational interrelationships to the muscle groups. Furthermore, it furthers perfection of technique by preserving the structure of the sport movement.” – Laputin & Oleshko from “Managing The Training Of Weightlifters.”

The conjugate method sequences training to best develop strength in relation to neural motor skills. Simply put, the human body’s adaptation to training stimulus can be greatly enhanced with proper planning and organization.

“A rational sequence of exercises involves mixing the work of muscle groups. In order to keep the organism from adapting, (which leads to a reduction of the reciprocal reaction) to the exercise which is frequently done first, it is necessary to periodically begin the workout with different exercises.” – Robert Ansovich Roman from “The Training of The Weightlifter.”

And that’s about as confusing as “muscle confusion” needs to be.

“The constructive effect of adaptation has its basis in three phenomena: Specificity of protein synthesis during the post-work period, conditioned by the type of work executed, its intensity, and its source of energy; Super-compensation of the substrates used up during the workout and different structural and enzymatic proteins; A positive correlation between the catabolic and anabolic processes, brought about by muscular work.” – Yuri Verkhoshansky from “Special Strength Training Manual for Coaches”

The most succinct explanation of the complexities of hypertrophy ever put into a single paragraph.

“As simply as I can put it, the reason for a lack of progress or for poor progress is insufficient rest and recuperation outside the gym. You should sleep no less than 8 or 9 hours a night, and as far as possible, it would be desirable to nap for an hour each day as well.” – ‘Dr. Lyuber’ from “Bodybuilding Our Way”

Go get some rest, sleeping beauty. An extra hour of sleep per day will transform you from man to beast.

These methods are applicable to general and specific physical preparation for a wide variety of sports. For example, as many of you know, boxing is a sport close to my heart, and many of the modern training methods we’re seeing increasingly used by boxers originate from Russian science. For example, in a study by V.I. Filiminov titled “Means of Increasing the Strength of the Punch” he used tensionometric dynamometers to measure that force produced by the legs when pushing off from the floor was responsible for producing 38.46% of punching power. Trunk rotation was second most at 37.42%, followed by arm extension at 24.12%. This led to the use of explosive style lifts like the snatch and clean & press being utilized by Russian boxers to increase power in the legs and core. This is becoming very popular lately, especially dumbbell and kettlebell versions of the lifts. Additionally, a publication by Getke & Digtyraev called “Fundamental Means of Strength Training for Boxers of Different Ages and Qualifications” concluded that it was “easiest to increase explosive strength by increasing maximal strength.” This is best accomplished in the 2-5 reps per set range, which avoids sarcoplasmic hypertrophy that might bulk up a boxer out of his weight class (see Prilepin’s table below). Squats are one example of an appropriate lift to meet this objective.

For further education, a very informative old-school documentary on Russian strength and endurance training for boxing can be found here:

And a similar documentary on wrestling is viewable here (you MMA dudes could certainly incorporate some of this into your training):

The insane bridge/pullover move performed by the gentleman in the video seems like an appropriate segue to the topic of kettlebells, a well-known Russian contribution to strength and endurance training. There are about a billion resources on kettlebells by now, but the coveted link goes to Valery Fedorenko who pressed a 35 lb kettlebell for 2006 reps at the 2006 Arnold Classic: For a frame of reference on this feat, it’s about as easy as running a marathon backwards, uphill, while carrying a medium sized dog and simultaneously singing the HMS Pinafore in its entirety in four different languages.

Finally, here’s Alexander Sergeyevitch Prilepin’s table, a widely utilized reference for weightlifting set/rep/loading parameters:


In conclusion, I demand a re-make of Rocky IV with Rocky being realistically knocked out in the 1st round by Drago.


Bompa, Tudor. “Periodization Training For Sports, 2nd Edition.” Human Kinetics. 2005.

Brokhin, Yuri. “The Big Red Machine: The Rise and Fall of Soviet Olympic Champions.” Random House. 1978.

Dr. Lyuber (pseudonym). “Bodybuilding Our Way” aka “The Secrets of the Basement.” Russian Translation.

Laputin, Nikolai & Oleshko, Valentin “Managing The Training Of Weightlifters.” Sportivny Press. 1986.

Ozolin, Nikolay. “Specific Conditioning, Track Technique Number 27.” 1967.

“Prilepin’s Table for Hypertrophy.”

Roman, Robert Ansovich “The Training of The Weightlifter.” Sportinivy Press. 1974.

Verkhoshansky, Yuri. “Supertraining, 6th edition.” 2009.

Verkhoshansky, Yuri & Natalia. “Special Strength Training: Manual for Coaches.” 2011.

Vorobiev, Arkady. “Russian Training Methods: Developing Speed and Flexibility.” 1968.

Zatsiorsky, Vladimir & Kraemer, William. “Science and Practice of Strength Training, Second Edition”. Human Kinetics. 1995, 2006.